When I first learned the premise of Riordan's book, everyday kids who find out that one of their parents is a Greek god and get sent to Camp Half-Blood where they learn to hone the gifts inherited from their non-human parent, I was really excited. I was a little less excited after I read the book for a few reasons, which are really just a matter of taste. We parent readers of kid's books tend to be harsher critics than our children. Just because I have a few stylistic issues with this book doesn't mean that it isn't very creative and unique among all other books of it's young adult fantasy genre. It is both creative and unique - wonderfully so.
The use of Greek gods and goddesses as characters in a kid's book is a great idea. Most kids are taught Greek mythology in school, middle school usually, and this book is aimed right at that reading level. Percy Jackson, son of Poseidon, a Titan, has all sorts of learning and behavioral disorders including dyslexia (because his brain is hard-wired for Ancient Greek) and ADHD, (which makes him more aware in battle) which are common among Half-Bloods. However, it is these disorders/qualities that cause Percy to be expelled from school after school. At the age of twelve, he is kicked out of his final school. But, he is not going through this world without guardians. Grover, a satyr who is the first to recognize Percy as a demigod and therefore must deliver him to Camp Half-Blood, is his best friend. Chiron, the centaur and immortal trainer of heroes, masquerades as a wheelchair-bound human teacher of Latin at Percy's school and later turns up at Camp Half-Blood. Percy also has Sally, his loving, hard working mother who has married a creep, probably as a means of protecting Percy, caring for him. Sadly and typically, Percy's mother is killed off very early on in the book, but, since this is Greek Mythology, she will return.
Riordan follows the traditions of Greek mythology, sending Percy on a quest to retrieve Zeus' Master Thunderbolt, seemingly stolen by Poseidon. But, he doesn't start off without a prophecy from the Oracle. Grover and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, accompany Percy as he heads west to recover the Bolt and his father's honor. With every stop, the three face a new challenge. The book is pretty much non-stop action, battle after battle, almost from page one. Throughout the story, Percy meets various attackers - characters from mythology, initially disguised as quasi-typical Americans. Ares shows up as a biker, clad in black leather with a backpack full of "supplies." Medusa appears as the owner and operator of Aunty Em's Garden Gnome Emporium, full of hundreds of life-like statues of people and animals. Percy is not sent into battle with these monsters unarmed. Chiron gives him a sword, Ankalusmos (Riptide), that is disguised as a ball point pen and always returns to its owner. And, as he pursues his quest, he learns of special abilities he possesses, such the ability to manipulate water, breathe underwater, communicate with equestrian animals and cause earthquakes, among other things.
Riordan does a great job of weaving Greek mythology into his story - such a great job that it is entirely enjoyable even if the reader knows absolutely nothing of mythology. At the same time, Riordan does not spend much time explaining all the mythological characters and events that occur throughout the book, which I wish he did. However, I do understand that this would slow the pace of the book and probably make it less enjoyable to the target audience.
I would have enjoyed a slightly slower, possibly more reflective pace to the book. While reading it I felt like I was watching an action-adventure movie (which this will become in the fall of 2009, directed by Chris Columbus who also directed the first two Harry Potter movies) and had a hard time suspending my disbelief because of that. But, like I said, except for its length, this book was written to appeal to someone exactly like Percy Jackson - a twelve year old boy who has trouble sitting still for long periods of time. Riordan is working on the fifth and final book in the series as of this writing. He has also outlined and written the first of ten books in a new series put out by Scholastic, The 39 Clues.
If your kids read the Percy Jackson books and want to know more about Greek Mythology, have them check out D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths or Favorite Greek Myths by Mary Pope Osborne, of Magic Tree House fame. She also has a six book series, Tales From the Odyssey, which distills Homer's epic for the fourth grade reading level. And, finally, thereis the fabulous Roman Mysteries Series written by the classical archaeologist, Caroline Lawrence. Apparently, this series has been adapted for the BBC by Simon Callow and is really well done. Hopefully it will reach our shores soon.
Also, don't miss The Cronus Chronicles by Anne Ursu. The first book in the series, The Shadow Thieves, introduces us to the red-headed Chrarlotte Mielswetzski, who is almost too bored to wish for something exciting to come her way. When it does come, in the form of her half-British cousin, Zachary and a creep from the Underworld who is feeding off him, Charlotte can barely believe that the fate of the living, and dead is in their hands.